JCC of Greater Pittsburgh surviving pandemic through grit, finesse

Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)

Before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, the Pittsburgh JCC had been on a positive financial track, having just paid off all of its long-term debts with the fees from its 20,000 members.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Pittsburgh has survived the COVID-19 pandemic so far through some serious financial finessing, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, the Pittsburgh JCC had been on a positive financial track. It had just paid off all of its long-term debts with the fees from its 20,000 members.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, however, all of the memberships had been frozen, and the center was looking at $6 million in projected losses as 80% of all operating revenues had ceased.
"The sky was falling," President and CEO Brian Schreiber told the Chronicle.
At first, the JCC leadership prepared for varying levels of closures, and how to operate while adhering to health regulations and figuring out how to best serve the community during these trying times.
However, those plans were thrown out within a day as the leadership realized the severity of the situation at hand.
"Literally, we went from level 1 to level 5 in 24 hours," Schreiber said. "Everything we had worked for very, very quickly went away. We went into full closure. I think we learned that JCCs do really well being active. And psychologically we don’t do well closed. It’s not something that’s in the DNA."
Even with its doors shut, the JCC still delivered around 1,300 meals to the elderly and children in need, hosted 40 blood drives, offered remote fitness classes and ran wellness checks on elderly members of the community.
"You learn how to pivot very, very quickly," Schreiber told the Pittsburgh-based weekly newspaper.
SCHREIBER NOTED that with the lay-offs and unpaid leave, the staff was very short-handed in their endeavors but continued to make the best of it. Once the Payment Protection Program stimulus loans from Uncle Sam came in, the JCC was finally able to bring back its full-time staff and a few part-time workers, who are now serving the community under strict health guidelines.
"We have people doing all different kinds of things," Schreiber said. "Our camp staff are working in the all-day programs, and our teen staff are doing that too. We have some staff that are working in child care all day, and all of us are doing health screenings and packing lunches for the seniors and [doing other] things."
He added that the JCC staff have "really embraced the mission: this deep, deep importance of mission. And frankly, I’d say that the community that we’re serving: I’ve never seen people more appreciative and supportive."
Nine months into the pandemic, the JCC has completed 77,000 diagnostic screenings, has an early childhood program up and running serving 195 children, continues to hold teen and family retreats and has worked towards providing remote learning options for 120 children enrolled in the "All Day at the J" program.
However, Schreiber is hesitant to say that the JCC will be able to pick right back up where it left off pre-coronavirus after the pandemic is over.
"I think [there] is going to be a 24- to 36-month recovery from this,” Schreiber told the Jewish Chronicle. "So, we’re trying to be resourceful with the resources we have now. Because it’s not just going to bounce back the next fiscal year, or the fiscal year after. I think it’s going to take some time to rebuild, and build some comfort level."
THE JCC has also received backing from benefactors within the community, who are forwarding some of the bill to their own accounts in order to keep the center afloat.
"I think that we recognized very early on that we needed a philanthropic backstop," Schreiber said. "And I would say the community has been exceptionally generous."
Some members have donated their membership fees, others made donations. The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh made a sizable donation to the JCC as well, in the form of a $250,000 grant, with a possible additional $150,000 to be added following board approval. It also received a $2.5 million emergency grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.
"The JCC is not just a community center," said the federation’s director of marketing Adam Hertzman, according to the Chronicle. "It is central to the health and human service efforts in the Jewish community and beyond. They serve seniors, they serve people who need physical therapy, they serve food-insecure people in need of food support, they serve people with disabilities.
"These supports become much, much harder given the health precautions and restrictions of the pandemic," he said. "Anything we can do to help the JCC help their service recipients is critical to the health of the Jewish community and the general Pittsburgh community which they serve."
Schreiber said that "it's hard, but we’re really proud. In some ways, I feel like this is our finest hour. Two years ago [following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting], I would have said it was our finest hour, too. This is a different finest hour, because you are going into Groundhog Day every day to some degree.
"You have to maintain that fidelity to practice, and that does take some level of resilience and endurance," he said.

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